When President Obama let fly the scolding, "Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets," to illustrate Mitt Romney's grasp of modern military during the third presidential debate, the chuckle could be heard around the world. Arguably Obama's retort accomplished what it intended to do: Embarrass his political rival and earn the president points as someone in the trenches - all under the forgiving cloak of humor.
This was a far different Obama viewers saw in the first debate, where his lackluster performance against an assertive Romney cost him dearly in the polls.
The lesson: Voters may believe they are focusing on the words, but it is the presentation that appears to count the most.
Los Angeles-based entertainment publicist and communication professor Steve Rohr says, "Non verbal communication trumps oral communication up to 90% of the time." He also argues that injecting a bit of humor into a debate can be one of the most powerful and effective strategies for any candidate. "A funny quip, whether off-the-cuff or carefully choreographed, can bring levity to an otherwise heated exchange and increase a candidate's appeal. 'Funny' conveys confidence."
Actor Fred Cross knows something about funny and is called upon to use it on TV, film and stage. The Second City Conservatory alumnus frequently appears on hit shows like Weeds, Parks and Recreation, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Cross is set to deliver plenty of laughs as a regular on the reality show parody The Joe Schmo Show: The Full Bounty airing on Spike in early 2013.
Off camera, Cross is clearly a fan of having a few chuckles during presidential debates. "Comedy is a medium of the people and can be used to both entertain and inform. When the candidates fire their zingers during a debate, it's like a flourishing bit of punctuation that can sum up and underline a point, much like Zorro would slice a 'Z' into the clothing of his vanquished foes." But as a voter who is carefully watching the race, he cautions that playing for laughs should not be the goal. "It should be the punctuation, not the message."